Chapter 22: A Broken Angel Sings From a Guitar
Page 424, top; more on "Days Between":
At the time he introduced it, Garcia was just beginning to experiment with a new effect pedal — a pitch-bend that allowed him to, in the words of Bob Bralove, "play any note and bend it on his pedal, so he could play a note, bend it a third with his [left] hand and another third with the pedal. So it took the control of pitch bend out of his hands. An idiomatic quality of his guitar playing was how he bent his notes, so this was one of the ways he broke the rules of how he played the guitar. It opened up a whole new door for him. It allowed him to do things that the guitar is not meant to do." Garcia used the pedal very effectively on a number of different versions of "Days Between," and over the next couple of years he tried it on everything from "Fire on the Mountain" to "Dark Star," with mixed results.
Page 424, lower-middle; Barbara Meier on the breakup:
"I know that during that year or so when we were hanging out before we actually leapt, he was so intrigued," she continues. "He was so curious. He was terrifically magnetized. He kept saying things to me like, 'How'd you get so smart?' and 'Where'd you learn all that?' And it seemed like ordinary keep-your-life together stuff to me. He was delighted, I think, that I had grown in consciousness through meditation practice, and that I was willing to be there so fully with him and share all of it with him. But then he started hating that level of clarity and openness when he started using. I don't think he felt up to it. I think he felt freaked by it."
Page 429, middle; another American institution:
Thayer Craw remembers, "I was at the soundboard [at Madison Square Garden] and I had my eyes closed and I was just swaying, and I opened them up and looked to my right and there was [legendary newsman]Walter Cronkite standing there with his wife, in her little Chanel suit, and another elderly couple. At one point I saw him fiddling with his ear and I tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Can I get you some ear plugs?' And he said, 'Oh no, my dear, I just turned my hearing aid off.' He was so sweet. So to have him there that night and then there were these other strange guys — one was in black leather with the open shirt and greased back hair, and finally I said, "What do you do?" and he said. 'Why, whadda you think we do?" I think I said 'sports,' though what I was thinking was 'Chippendale's dancers.' He said 'No, we're from the World Wrestling Federation. So to have those guys one end and Walter on the other showed me how far this band had come—they got some of every damn person on the demographic scale."
Page 427, bottom; more on Not For Kids Only:
There was lots of variety within the album's folk framework. On "Arkansas Traveler," a fiddle tune that dates back to frontier times, but was popularized by the Stanley Brothers, Garcia and Grisman drawl their way through a batch of traditional Appalachian jokes in between catchy musical interludes:
Grisman: Hello, stranger.
Garcia: Hello there, stranger.
Grisman: Does this road go all the way to Little Rock?
Garcia: I've been standing here all day and it hasn't gone nowhere yet.
And on "A Horse Named Bill," easily one of the strangest songs Garcia ever recorded, he sings verses like these, to the tune of "Dixie":
I had a girl and her name was Daisy
And when she sang the cat went crazy
with deliriums — St. Vituses —
And all kinds of cataleptics
One day she sang a song about
a man who turned himself inside out
and jumped into the river
He was so very sleepy
The two obviously had a great time recording these old songs — you can almost hear the smiles — and the sessions were quick and smooth. As Grisman noted, "I think the first day we knocked out about three of these tunes, and we had never played them. We were familiar with them, but it wasn't like we had to work on them." Garcia added in the same tandem interview, "We'd find a key that seemed like it was singable and good for my range, and then it was a matter of saying, 'Oh, we could do some instrumentals in here maybe,' or, 'We could just throw in a lick here.'"
Page 429, lower-middle; an anecdote from Dec. '93:
While the band was in Los Angeles during that series, film editor Susan Crutcher saw Garcia for what would turn out to be the last time. "Deborah brought him to see my 9-year-old godson, Dexter, who’s Emily Craig’s son, play in a soccer game. It was at a little soccer field at a school in Santa Monica. All the parents were there and it was a big deal because it was a playoff game. About mid-game, around the goal line, Deborah and this white-haired, white-bearded gentleman in black turned up. The parents kind of spotted him and everyone noticed. The kids then noticed that their parents weren’t looking at the game and they gradually stopped the game. The kids got all excited because they thought it was Santa Claus or something. Then half-time came and we had a really nice talk. We had a talk about interactive multimedia and things that we were both involved with. And he did a beautiful drawing of Dexter playing in the game and gave it to him. He was real sweet. We sat on a blanket, picnic style. Nobody bothered him. The kids came around and said hi, but I don’t think most of them knew who he was. He looked tired, his complexion looked tired, but he still had a twinkle in his eye. He probably still does, wherever he is."
Page 430, middle; before Jerry and Deborah's wedding:
"When Jerry and Deborah came to L.A. a couple of years ago [on a Dead tour], my husband and I went to the Four Seasons [hotel] and had breakfast with them, and they said they were going to get married," remembers Emily Craig. "I said, 'I think I'm one of the few people in the world who's both of your friends.' To me, she represented his happiness, and his happiness apart from being in the Grateful Dead. And in that regard, that was very threatening to people whose livelihood depended on Jerry being in the Grateful Dead.
"I was surprised at the degree to which Deborah made peace with her former tormenters," she continues. "I think it's very much to her credit. I also think it's to the credit of her former tormenters that they realized that the most important thing was Jerry's happiness and that he was entitled to that. So I was thrilled with the fact that he and Deborah had each other — finally."
Page 432, upper-middle: Vince DiBiase on Garcia's busy schedule:
"[Musicians] would call and we'd set up dates, and sometimes it wouldn't happen for months and they'd keep rescheduling. Of course everybody was always willing to do that for Jerry. When the day came [for the appointment] if he was up for it he'd do it, and if he wasn't he just wouldn't. He was that way about appointments all the time. I kept track of his calendar and was constantly reminding him and trying to get him to commit to keeping appointments. Sometimes he'd say, 'Yell at me!' Some appointments he couldn't stand — like going to his attorney, for example. He would cancel three or four appointments with his attorney within a week, and it might go on for a month or more."
Page 433, top; Garcia on carpal-tunnel syndrome:
"There are problems associated with playing an instrument over a long term," he told Guitar Player in 1993. "But there are also a couple of different schools of physical motion that are kind of a holistic philosophy of movement. They train you about your physical relationship with your instrument, mostly posture things. They're mostly aimed at classical string players, because they're the ones that suffer from this stuff where it matters most. If you're a symphony violin player, you can't get away with sloppiness. If there's anything funny about your fingers, you're fucked. There's something called Alexander Technique that has to do with everything — stress, relaxation, and that sort of stuff. It's designed to overcome those kinds of problems if you're a musician.
"There probably are [exercises to treat it], but I'm not aware of them," he continued. "I have things that my chiropractor has given me that are designed to open up the pathways, because you have sheaves of muscles and your nerves are in between them. When you play a lot, your muscles develop in that certain restricted way. They get flat and hard and they squash the nerve, which changes the signal. That's the thing of it slowly getting dead, where you slowly lose sensation."
Vince Welnick is among those who discounts Garcia's drug use as a major cause of his playing problems in '94 and '95. "Jerry talked about his drug thing very little," he says. "The only time he ever tried to explain it to me, he was trying to describe his relationship with it and he said that he was what is called a maintenance user. He didn't do it to get high. About halfway through my tenure, when it was pretty much out of the closet, it was pretty obvious that he was going to do what he was going to do and better blatant than latent — although he never did the shit in front of you. He didn't do it to party and he didn't increase his dosage; he did enough to make him feel normal. So in theory, if that's true, then it shouldn't have affected him that much adversely — only the absence of that might have done that. It was obvious he had a lot of blood sugar and heart problems that could've affected his performance.
"Apparently the band did a bit of nitrous oxide before I got in the organization and Jerry told me one time that he didn't like nitrous because it affected his dexterity," Welnick continues. "So I'm sure if the heroin was affecting his dexterity, he would've done something about it, because I know how important it was for him to play well, and he knew it when he didn't. Jerry wasn't about that drug. That was incidental to what Jerry was; it didn't make him what he was. Like I said, I think his problem was the onset of the diabetes."
Page 435, top; worrying about Garcia, summer '94 (and some light moments):
Even Bruce Hornsby, who played a set with the band at Giants Stadium, was alarmed at what he saw and heard. "That was a grim show," he says. "I remember having a sense of being up there, and I was playing the accordion so I didn't feel like I could have much impact on the music other than maybe playing a few melodic things that might raise Garcia's eyebrow, get a response. Which is all I was trying to do — get some sign of life from him, because that was one of those nights where he was staring straight down the whole time. I had a very intense sense that night that 'There's nothing happening up here and here are all these people out there,' and I'd see these Deadheads with looks of rapture on their faces and I just didn't understand it. I thought it was a surreal, dark joke. And I think the other guys knew it was bad. I'm sure they did.
"I know there are a lot of Deadheads out there who are extremely discerning and they knew when it wasn't happening. Then there are also a whole lot of people who are there just for the party, as we all know, and they neither know nor give a shit whether it's happening or not."
Still, Hornsby remained close to Garcia, keeping in touch by phone, as he had since he left the Dead. "I used to phone-prank him a lot," Hornsby says. "I used to mess with him on the phone all the time. My favorite was this one time when I had him thinking he was live on the air on New Orleans radio with Ernie K. Doe [best known as the singer of the song "Mother-in-Law"]. He used to have this incredible radio show: 'Ernie K. Doe, K-DOE, live over the baddest motor scooter from New Orleans! Whatcha say Crescent City?' Anyway, Garcia and I would listen to tapes of these shows; we played the hell out of them, so I knew this schtick pretty well. Maybe two or three years ago I called up Garcia around Christmas time and I used that voice:
"'Jerry Gah-cia? Ernie K. Doe! Live! WWOZ, 90.7 on yo' radio dial, live from New Orleans! Whatchu got to say to New Orleans, Gah-cia?' And Garcia says, 'Um, well, I'd like to wish everybody happy holidays ...' and I'm thinkin', 'Oh man, I've got him!' I said, 'Gah-cia, Grateful Dead don't play New Orleans. When Grateful Dead gonna come to New Orleans, Gah-cia?' And he says, 'Well, man, I really feel bad about that. We want to come sometime ...' So I kept winding him up: I said, 'Ernie K. Doe and the Grateful Dead gonna jam, Gah-cia! When Grateful Dead gonna play 'Mother-In-Law'? I never heard Grateful Dead play no 'Mother-in-Law,' Gah-cia!' Finally I couldn't take it anymore: 'Hey Garcia, it's me — Bruce!' He goes, 'You weasel!' and he cracked up.
"Eventually it got to the point where I couldn't fool him anymore, so the last time I got him, which was in May of '95, I got him by imitating him: 'Hey man. Hey man, what's happenin'.' He was confused for a minute, I think, but that was my last resort, after five or six years of this."
Page 436, middle: a musical journey with Sanjay Mishra:
The afternoon of that last December Oakland show, Garcia went into Club Front to lay down some guitar parts for an album by an Indian musician living in Washington, D.C., named Sanjay Mishra. Sanjay had met Jerry and Deborah that summer in his capacity as an educational representative for Greenpeace in Washington, D.C.
"Deborah was in the process of doing research for a film on the environment and she happened to call Greenpeace and wanted to come by and get some information," Sanjay recalls. "I had no idea who she was. So I look out the window at the appointed time, and there’s Jerry Garcia walking in! Before I could recover, she says, 'Hi, I’m Deborah. This is my husband, Jerry.'" What Sanjay didn't tell them at the time was that as a teenager in Calcutta in the early '70s, he had played in a rock band that drew most of its repertoire from the Dead, the Allman Brothers and The Band. In the intervening years, he'd moved to America, studied classical guitar, played jazz and put out a CD of his own music, which he sheepishly gave to Garcia as he left. "He slid it into his pocket, gave me a big grin, and walked out," Sanjay says. "I thought, 'Well, that’s that. Wow, after all these years I got to meet Jerry Garcia!'"
But it turned out that Garcia was so impressed by Sanjay's album that when they spoke on the phone a couple of days later, Jerry volunteered to play on the guitarist's next record, which was already in progress. "When we finally worked out a time to do it [at Club Front]," Sanjay says, "it was right after he’d come back from playing in Colorado and they were at the Oakland Coliseum. They were going to L.A. the next day. He had a bad cold, he was worn out, but he snuck our session in anyway.
"I had five pieces planned for us," he continues. "I really wanted to play some Erik Satie, the Gymnapody — so we used that as a starting point and improvised on that. But we never got around to recording those. I asked him if he wanted to chant a little bit and he said, 'Yeah, sure. I have a bad cold, but I’ll chant.' I’ve always wanted to do a piece where we took Tibetan chants, put them through a Harmonizer [a digital effects processor that allows sounds to be manipulated various ways] and pitched them down a couple of octaves. But since he had a cold and he had to play that night at the Coliseum, I didn’t want him to strain his voice. So he picked the three pieces we ended up doing.
"He understood exactly what I wanted. I had the titles and I told him what I was trying to say with each piece. And he’s a very creative guy. He’d instantly react to stuff. He was constantly going. So he did a few different takes of the first two tunes and then on 'Clouds' he did it in one take. It was amazing. He was getting ready to leave and I said, 'You gotta try this one other piece, man.' I said, 'Just listen to a few bars.' There was someone waiting to take him to the gig, but he sat down and just played this incredible solo right off the cuff. I was totally blown away. Then I went to the show and that blew me away, too. I hadn’t seen the Dead in years.
"I was so honored that he even thought my music was worth a listen. But to then play on my music, and to play so beautifully, was beyond anything I could have expected."
Page 436, bottom; more concern:
"I would get the press clippings from the tours and I'd read these reviews about how he wasn't moving onstage and was forgetting the words to all the songs, and at the same time I'd get letters from Deadheads who were concerned about him," says Eileen Law of the Dead office. "The last couple of years I'd get these letters saying, 'I hope you guys don't let happen to Jerry what happened to Brent.' People were really concerned.
"After a while I didn't want to be around Jerry. It was too depressing for me. Even when I'd go to a show, which wasn't that often, I'd place myself on the side of the stage in a place where I couldn't see Jerry, because it was too upsetting to me."
"Why keep doing it over the last few years?" asks Peter Toluzzi, a Minneapolis Deadhead and occasional reviewer of the band. "Inertia? Money? Mouths to feed? Too stoned to tell the difference? It's much more than that. The music still burned. The people still cheered. The new 18-year-olds still got it. More people were turned on to the Grateful Dead in the last six to 10 years of their playing than in all the rest of their time put together, I'm sure. And I think you could also argue that they had their most powerful transformative effect in that last 10 to 12 years. I think that's in part because the study of the Dead as a sociological phenomenon is clearly a different study from that as an evolving musical consciousness.
"Listening to Dick Latvala raving on the radio about how great the band was in 1968, or reading Rock Scully's book and getting the insider's opinion and hearing how much it had all fallen apart by 1982, is probably a very valid experience, but it's the experience of the inner core of the whole Grateful Dead thing, and it fails to really observe what's going on in the outskirts, where most of the activity is taking place — the lives that were changed at Alpine Valley during what the Dead might say were some of their worst years. There's so much power in the experience, and they got better and better at extracting the core of the experience for the people there, that even when they obviously weren't at their best, thousands and thousands of people still came away from Dead shows changed for the better. And that's because it was bigger that Garcia; it was bigger than any of them, and I think they recognized that and that's one reason they kept at it."